Memorise our bluffers' guide or risk looking like an F1 rookie
Formula One racing has taken place in one form or another since 1947. Its full official title is the FIA Formula One World Championship, with the FIA (Fédération Internationale du Sport Automobile) the current governing body. The ‘formula’ bit refers to the set of guidelines that the cars and drivers must conform to, with Formula One signifying the highest class and the fastest possible cars (up to around 355kmph), with a huge emphasis on aerodynamics, suspension and tyres.
The F1 season is split into different Grand Prix races, and over the course of the season these determine the winners of two annual World Championships – one for the drivers and one for the constructors. Both are decided on a points system, with the first eight finishers in a race awarded the numbers (first place 10 points, second place eight, third six, and so on). Each team has two drivers, which is why the drivers’ and constructors’ champions can differ. The 2008 drivers’ champion was Lewis Hamilton, while Ferrari took the constructors’ title (Michael Schumacher holds the record for most drivers’ championships, with seven).
With so much emphasis on technology, and the cost of taking cars around the world, F1 is by no means cheap – rules constantly change, and many teams have gone bust or been bought out over the years. But the sport has huge sponsorship and merchandising opportunities, with a massive audience worldwide.
In 2009, there will be 17 Grand Prix events (see the F1 Calendar on p23), and by the time the Bahrain event rolls around races will already have taken place in Melbourne, Kuala Lumpur and Shanghai. A new venue being added to the F1 calendar this time around is Abu Dhabi, which will host the season finale at the new Yas Marina Circuit in November.
The running order
The Bahrain F1 takes place over three days: day one (Friday, April 24) sees two practice sessions from 10am-11.30am, 2pm-3.30pm, allowing the drivers to get used to the track; day two (Saturday, April 25) sees another practice session from 11am-noon, followed by the qualifying stage at 2pm – this decides the order of the 20 cars on the starting grid in the big race. Day three (Sunday, April 26) is the main event, starting at 3pm – cars begin with a warm-up lap, then assemble on the starting grid in the order they qualified before setting off for 57 laps of high-speed racing.
New rules for 2009
Lots for the teams and drivers to consider. Tyres After 10 years of racing on grooved tyres, 2009 sees a return to slicks, which many purists regard as the true racing tyre. This will increase grip by around 20 per cent.
Aerodynamics Gone are all the aerodynamic add-ons like extra wings; and the front and rear wings are altered dramatically. Front wings are lowered and made wider to equal the width of the car, and now feature flaps that can be adjusted by the driver up to twice every lap. The rear wing is higher and narrower, reducing downforce.
Engines To boost reliability, rev limits have been reduced from 19,000-18,000rpm, and each driver is now limited to just eight engines per season. With 17 rounds, this means that engines will need to last more than two races each, with drivers receiving a 10-place grid penalty if they exceed this.
Testing Teams will no longer be allowed to test during the race season. This can affect teams that may want to introduce new drivers.
Kinetic Energy Recovery System This is technology found on some road cars, which teams now have the option of using. The system helps recover wasted kinetic energy generated by a car’s braking process. This energy is stored in an onboard battery and can be used by the driver to gain an extra 80hp or so, available for just under seven seconds per lap. The driver can use the power via a boost button on the steering wheel when overtaking. There are some downsides, though, such as the weight of the system – an important factor to consider. Teams will have to look at both the benefits and problems.